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Autumn Bowling Green Maintenance Question Time

Autumn Bowling Green Maintenance Question Time

Autumn Bowling Green Maintenance always raises a lot of questions. Top dressing continues to be the most concerning topic for many readers. Should we top dress? Is it OK not to? And...if we do, what should we use? Master Greenkeeper John Quinn answers readers' most pressing queries about Autumn Bowling Green Maintenance.

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What causes compaction on a bowls green?

Compaction is of course one of the big issues in bowling green maintenance and people are always looking for ways to prevent or minimise its occurrence.

Compaction happens to a greater or lesser extent depending on soil type. At the two extremes of this are Clay and Sand.

Think of a potter wetting some powdered clay to throw a pot and you can immediately picture the compaction and drainage properties of this soil type; it compacts very well when wet and clay pots don’t allow drainage at all; and when clay soil is wet this is pretty much the case under your green too. Clay is a very good moisture and nutrient retainer.

Now imagine running on to the upper reaches of the beach, up near the dunes and it’s hard to imagine how this highly mobile sand could ever be compacted. Due to the particle shapes which are round, there is a huge amount of air space between particles which doesn’t allow for any level of compaction.

The above examples are, I think, the reasons that clubs have been all too eager to jump on the sand band wagon over the last few decades; more sand seems to equal better drainage and lower compaction.

The best bowling green soil lies somewhere between the two and is a sandy loam as discussed here.

So although individual actions like foot and maintenance traffic can be said to cause compaction, the underlying soil holds the real answer.

Circle of Improvement

My post yesterday looked at the huge extent to which the top 100mm (4inches) of our greens have been subjected to sand over the previous 3 or 4 decades.

Today I’d like to elaborate a little on my thinking about taking a green from that state to one of High Performance.

The recovery process is based on encouraging that same top 100mm to return to a state that is akin to a natural, healthy living soil. This of course takes time as we are actually waiting for nature to produce more organic matter to ameliorate the sand to bring the soil back to a state where it can support a large, thriving population of soil microbes.

If you imagine my sketch of the “Circle of Decline” as a water wheel spinning fiercely in a clockwise direction; in other words out of control due to inappropriate maintenance. Each application of sand, pesticide, excessive N fertiliser, etc only serves to set the wheel spinning ever faster in the wrong direction.

The performance greens program is aiming to make the wheel turn in the opposite direction so a lot of the effort at the beginning is simply to slow the wheel down gradually until it is eventually stopped. The program then needs to get the wheel to start turning in the other direction.

Once it starts to turn in the right direction every bit of the correct maintenance program just makes it go faster and faster, so although the recovery process is slow at first, it builds very quickly once things are turned around.

We then start to see the action of what I am going to call the Circle of Improvement due to lack of imagination!

Every ounce of new Read more